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Education: the agony and the ecstasy

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by Katie Fox

Katie is a writer, a teacher, a mezzo-soprano, and a lover of all things red. She and her husband Shaun are passionate about mentoring and equipping artists of all kinds. Find her online at katiefox.net.

It’s January 28, which means that I’m in the thick of my annual agony regarding my children’s education. Every year, for the past three years and counting, I face two deadlines in late January: the deadline to re-apply for financial aid at our current private school (which we LOVE), and the deadline to apply for a public school transfer (because we need a back-up plan).

Because what if we don’t get enough financial aid at our current private school? Or what if we decide that we can’t commit to the commute anymore? (Yes, we are currently That Crazy Family that drives their child across the city for a better education. At least I know we’re crazy, right?)

It doesn’t stop there. I need more back-up plans. What if we don’t get chosen in the public school transfer lottery?

So, next week I’ll be attending an info meeting for a charter school near our home. And I just signed up to join the email list for a new university model school that is opening in the fall. And I’ve been researching homeschool curriculum. And…and…and…someone save me from this madness!

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Photo by liberalmind1012

We’re in this agony because we believe education is really important. We believe it’s so important that we’re prepared for a certain amount of sacrifice, in order for our children to have the best education we can secure for them. But where to draw the line?

Because the line does have to be drawn somewhere; peace and sanity and doing-what’s-best-for-the-whole-family has to be part of the equation, too. Long-term sustainability must be considered, as well as financial viability. And we want to form relationships with other families and friends that are there for the long haul. So how to decide?

I know a wiser, more “seasoned” mother who homeschooled her two oldest daughters, now in their early twenties. She once told me that when it comes to education, there’s no need to feel like you make the decision once and then it’s set in stone forever. Instead, she re-evaluated every year, for each child. Is homeschooling the best decision for this year, for this daughter? Every year, she asked this question.

I have found this advice to be both liberating and exhausting. It’s true, we can always re-evaluate. We can always change our minds and try something new. But oh, it would be so very lovely to simply have the issue settled – to not go through the annual madness of visiting schools and researching options and applying for aid and waiting on lotteries.

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Photo by alamosbasement

The other night, I joked to my husband that I wanted to hire a governess. Right now, I think that would be my ideal schooling situation for my family: the girls would learn at home, using a curriculum that I’ve carefully chosen, with plenty of freedom to go out and explore the world, while I’d be just down the hall, working from home, and able to join in on their explorations from time to time. Maybe my husband would work from home sometimes, too. Sounds lovely to me.

I think part of my struggle lies in the fact that I really don’t want my children to be away from home for eight hours everyday. To me, it feels counter-intuitive for family members to spend so much time apart from each other, especially when you consider that children can learn all they need to learn in three or four hours each day. The eight-hour school day exists because of parents’ work schedules.

And in fact, before the Industrial Revolution, most families spent their days together. Most fathers worked out of their homes, either in a trade or as farmers. Children often learned at home, and then worked alongside their parents to help in the family business. So, it’s actually a rather recent phenomenon, in the history of our culture, for families to spend their days apart from each other.

Yet, for me and for my husband, homeschooling doesn’t feel like the right choice for us. We’re open to it, just as we’re open to many other options when we re-evaluate each year, but so far we always conclude that it’s not our calling. And the reality is that we are not living in the pre-Industrial era. We were born into THIS era, in this time in history, and this culture. I believe that must mean something.

So, every year we continue to forge ahead and research and agonize and visit and apply and wait. We do what’s best for each child – and for our family – each year. And we’ll continue to do so, because we believe it’s important, and because we can.

One thing I didn’t mention: we’re very aware that it’s a privilege for us to even have so many options, and we’re incredibly grateful for it. How have you approached your child(ren)’s education?

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Comments

  1. I really admire this post. I would also say that if I am on your position right now, I would also choose and do what’s best for my kids. It’s good to give them what they deserve and what they should have that can help them in the future. As long as you can do all those things for them, just continue doing it.

  2. Great article! I am going through this same thing as my first child will be going into kindergarten next year. I also don’t feel called to homeschool and have often been the primary wage earner in the family so I do not feel certain that I will always be available to homeschool. But, I also have concerns about public schools and don’t think we could afford the private school after both children are in school (and it is on the opposite side of town:). It makes me sad that they will be away from home for so many hours each day too! There are just too many factors, options, pros/cons, etc. that make this decision so hard. I would also like to make the decision and then stick with one choice as it makes all other life decisions a little easier. For now, we are going to have to figure it out year by year and trust that God will provide for and protect our children, wherever they are!

  3. Thank you for this lovely post. It is such a tricky, personal decision. It also gives me great comfort that it’s not a decision that’s set in stone. At this stage, we have the privilege of our two boys attending an independent school which – we believe – gives them the most enriching, beautiful education for primary school. It takes us 45 mins minimum to get them there. Friends and family often don’t understand why we chose that school, or why we chose private for primary and plan to send them to a public school for highschool. But we, like you, do it this way because we think it is best for us and them for each phase, as best we are able to.

  4. Katie, I’m with you. Even though my two oldest children have continued at their private, classical school does not mean that they will continue next year. I sat through an entire day of first grade last week and half a day of third grade evaluating the teachers and the curriculum. Going into the decision with my questions answered helps at crunch time.

    In using time wisely, your children’s education is worth every ounce of energy you pour into your evaluations. Try not to stress. Choose the most important options and concentrate on those. May you discover quickly the route to take. :-)

  5. The fact that you can change things is an important one to keep in mind, I think. My son’s first two schools were public, the third a private Catholic school, the fourth we homeschooled for the year and he’s about to start his second year this week at a fairly expensive private high school – blazers and ties required, a big change from the pyjama clad maths at home of a couple of years ago.
    I don’t care if he ends up wanting to be a chef or game developer or lawyer – his school, for me, is about giving him the possible options and opportunities for learning and growth. There are certainly a lot of things I could do with the money we’re spending but there’s not much more important than him, so it works for me.
    I know for some people long term world travel with their kids works (seriously jealous) or homeschooling works, (I loved the year we did), or their local public school is awesome.

    My best advice is to look at all the possibilities, keep an open mind, talk to lots of people and ask any and all questions – at least when you’ve made a decision you know that what you’re doing this year, or next, works for you.

  6. There’s something to be said for making the decision for the long haul, though, too. It doesn’t mean you can never change your mind, but being committed to a certain course of action changes your outlook on it. You’re invested for the long haul, and little bumps in the road don’t carry the same weight over a span of years that they do in a span of months. Unless the family situation has changed and the burdens now outweigh the blessings, I don’t know that there is really any reason to reevaluate every single year, beyond a simple, “Are we still happy?” If all parties are satisfied, agonizing over alternatives, constantly second-guessing decisions, is not really beneficial. So believes this mother of seven, who committed to the long years of home education when her eldest child was four, some 13 years ago. Steadiness has it’s own rewards.

    • Wow, that’s a good statement: Steadiness has its own rewards. There is a certain peace in stability, isn’t there? I’m all for reevaluating the needs of a family when necessary, but living in the security of knowing what’s next is a gift to me.

    • Our kids (5 and 7) have been immersed in the local public school in the tiny country of Luxembourg since we moved here in June of 2012. They are learning to speak Luxembourgish, read and write in German, and within year or two will begin learning French. We know we want to keep them in this school system for a few years if we want the language learning to pay off, now that we’ve “invested” in this drastic change in our lives. I really appreciate what Jeannie C. is saying about making a decision an sticking with it, and how it puts the bumps along the way in a different perspective. Of course we will continue to reflect and re-evaluate, but it is important for us to repeatedly remind ourselves that we want to stick this out, that no schooling option is perfect, and that it’s the very challenges they face that make our kids stronger, more adaptable and empathetic, and all the rest. Some how this makes the re-evaluation process a bit less agonizing.

    • Thank you for this. It’s basically our approach also. Unless we find that there is a serious issue or concern we will continue to use the small, private Christian school we’ve loved so much.

    • Great thoughts, Jennie C.! Thank you for your perspective. We find ourselves in the same situation as you described, and very alone (and sometimes, judged!) as well. I don’t understand why it is threatening to some, especially when they ask me about education, that when we started with our first child’s educational decisions we started looking from the end to the beginning and made the best choice we could (home education for us), and we are sticking it out. Some years really aren’t as magical as others, but that doesn’t mean we needed to do something else for that one year. Overall, our whole family is very happy, active in our community, and enjoying the time we spend learning and serving together. I think the fact that my children know we’re in this for the long haul means more than we can estimate.

      • I think that this wiser, more “seasoned” mother I know was certainly committed to homeschooling her children for the long haul – she has finished with her two older daughters, now in their twenties, and is now continuing with her youngest daughter, age 11 or 12. The advice was not to not be committed – it was to simply continue to always make sure it’s what’s best, and not just continue to do something that may not be working, just because it’s what you’ve always done. It’s meant to be an encouragement that there are lots of options available and you never have to feel stuck. I’m glad that you are able to feel peace in your choice for the long haul! We hope to get there someday.

    • Jennie, I agree wholeheartedly. We’re simply not able to make a decision for the long haul right now. We hope to get to that place, though – it’s a goal!

  7. Ug. We are so there right now, like lots of other parents all over. It’s so hard to choose. (And, we are thankful to have a choice.). With the school across town, do you find that all of the activities and meetings associated with school are taxing on the family? For example, if school is 20-45 min away, how do you handle dinner on the night of a PTA meeting or basketball practice or Girl Scout meeting (etc). It’s something we are struggling with in our decision and I’d love to hear what others think and so. We are wondering if the added stress of creating a school community so “far” from home is worth it. It’s tough.

  8. I love this post. like you, there are several good options in our area. our oldest is starting 4k this fall and although it’s a low pressure year, I want to start her where we will continue for k5 and 1st, ect. I felt such freedom last week when I realized its really ok to customize her plan next year, to continue to use the preschool she’s been at for a couple of mornings each week, and then start with classical conversations for homeschool at the same time. it’s the best plan for us. Plus, given that we live in the heat of the south, I’ll be year-round schooling. This summer, I intent to nail down her reading skills and math. I’m so excited that I’m beside myself! I’ve always been a ferocious learner, and savor reading across many subjects. friends have told me it’d be a shame if i didn’t homeschool! So i’m chomping at the bit. I still have to figure out how to fit preserving my own education—I’m a physician, and right now volunteer very part time at a free clinic, which is hard but good. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to move my clinic hours, maybe change my practice a little. Still figuring that out.

    • Sarah,
      Your comment about your own education made me think of the book “Leadership Education” by Oliver and Rachel DeMille. I think you will enjoy it as you begin your homeschool journey.

  9. We still have several years before faced with these types of decisions but I am excited to read the commenters thoughts on this topic. Love what your friend said about reevaluating each year, for each child. Great advice!

  10. As a child I was predominantly homeschooled, but also attended private school and public school for a few years. As a young adult, I became a public school teacher. Currently, I have become a full time stay at home mom of two little boys (with whom I do preschool activities at home most days). When I read your article, the thought did cross my mind whether a governess might be an actual option for you. Granted, not a formal type of governess, but someone with an education background who might want to teach part time in a non traditional setting…maybe a couple hours a day or just a couple days a week. Or to even cut down on cost, is there another family who would want to go in together with you to hire a private teacher for all of your children? Anyway, the possibilities really are endless! And I wondered if what you really want might actually be doable for you. :)

    • Thanks for your comment, Katie May! Reading all these comments on this post make me wonder if our culture really isn’t ripe for an education revolution of sorts. Going in with some other families to hire a teacher and create a little school of your own….that’s not a bad idea! There are probably all sorts of options that we haven’t even thought about yet.

    • At our small church, there are 6 of us with education degrees ranging from preK-high school. We have joked about starting our own “academy” as the children get older. Perhaps, we should seriously consider this option…

  11. As a teacher and a new mom, this strikes close to home. My little boy is not one year old still, but I am already getting pressure to get him to a daycare (which, truth be said, makes sense as I am also a certified daycare educator -I don’t know the proper name in English, but that’s how we call us around here-). I do not think it is the right thing for us, right now, and I am afraid that when the time to go to school comes I’ll feel the same way. In fact, I feel I am called to homeschool, but we don’t have the option here!
    It’s a battle I’ll have to fight in a few years, so I still have peace and calm times ahead, but thanks for sharing: knowing that others do worry about the same things helps, too.

  12. We too consider our options every year. I enjoyed having your perspective on the blog today, my comment in the SLM survey was that I feel the blog is geared too much toward traditional homeschooling families and their perspective. Not that their perspective is bad or wrong, but I feel that a lot of the readers represent other educational choices.

  13. We are in our last year of completely homeschooling all of our three children — more than twenty years of home education. Like your friend, we evaluated year by year, but always with an undergirding default assumption that we would continue to homeschool unless there were compelling reasons to change. That worked well for us. Homeschooling has looked different in our household at different stages, too. This year, for instance, I am pretty much already retired because our son is taking all dual credit courses in a variety of settings, supervised by me. My role is much more like a guidance counselor than a teacher this year.

    My idea of an ideal education? Something like the one-room-schoolhouse model — a very small, neighborhood school with one or two teachers, heavy parental involvement and oversight, and access to technology.

    • I think my wiser, more “seasoned” mom friend also had the undergirding intention to continue each year – she simply meant to assure me that it’s ok to change your mind if what you’re doing isn’t working…that there’s no need to continue doing what you’ve always done if it’s not working – there are other options. I find it fascinating that you homeschooled your kiddos but it’s not your ideal, either. I think I always assumed homeschoolers wouldn’t feel that way. I suppose many of us end up choosing something that is not exactly our “ideal” and we must trust it to all work out. :)

  14. I’m with you – I like the idea of a governess! :) My son is just turning three and I’m already freaked out by all of the options and what to do about them!

  15. Until my son was 5 and my daughter was 2-1/2, we lived in a beautiful 100+-year old home in a city and state where the public schools are not very good. Then I became pregnant with our third baby and we were facing a decision of where to send our children to school. We couldn’t afford private school for three children, so we moved 20 minutes away and across state lines to live in a great public school district. In the process, we sold the home that I absolutely loved and bought a 1970’s-era Colonial that needs a lot of updating. But we now have an acre of property where our children can play, a good-sized vegetable garden, and great public schools. You do have to make sacrifices for your children’s education and happiness. But these sacrifices are so very worthwhile.

  16. Amen Katie! I decided when my oldest started school that we would take it one day, one semester, one year at a time. With a long term perspective of public school(our system is the best in GA), we are open to other learning environments as we become more aware if our children’s and family’s needs. It can be exhausting, but isn’t all parenting? These aren’t easy decisions, but we choose the responsibility when we choose to be parents. Kudos to you for taking the high road when so many parents are not plugged in to their kids education these days!!

  17. Seriously, have you been reading my mind?
    My husband and I are doing this for the first time ever – I feel very overwhelmed! We were both 100% homeschooled, grew up with all homeschool friends, and I even taught in a homeschool coop after we were married. Obviously, that was the choice everyone thought we would make. However, we are both being pulled in a different way. So, we are applying to enroll our son in a university-model school. And of course, we need backups (what if he doesn’t get in?!), so we’re also applying to a traditional private school whose curriculum I’ve fallen in love with. And there still is traditional homeschooling as a ultimate backup (the public schools here are NOT good), but I still feel like this is a big change in our lives. It is a lot!

  18. There are so many things about this post that made me want to reply. First…the title. Oh, are you in my head? Lol!
    We are in year three of homeschooling, but our lifestyle has changed so much as a result of me taking a full time work from home job. And we think of the same things…what if they need to go to school next year? With homeschooling you have so much freedom to let your kids develop at their own pace, but I worry if I need to put them in school they’ll be at the same level as their peers.
    I wish *so* much that school wasn’t so long, for so many days. We could really use a 3 day/week program where the kids went with adult supervision, lots of amazing resources and people who inspire and support their learning. Unfortunately the types of programs that look like this are far beyond what we could afford. It just feels like all or nothing.
    And yes, the constantly figuring it out is exhausting. But at the same time we *love* the unique way our family learns and lives.

    • Yes, it does feel like all or nothing sometimes, doesn’t it? A 3 day/week program where the kids went with adult supervision, lots of amazing resources and people who inspire and support their learning. sounds good to me, too. Let’s start one! (ha!) :)

      • I don’t know if this is an Arkansas thing but there are a number of schools here where the kids go to a traditional classroom school for 3 days and homeschool the other two. Many families love the program. Maybe there is something similar near you?

        • Can you give me a name. I live in Mn and I would love to do just that. Three days public, 2 days homeschooled. If you gave me a name of a district I could do some research on that, and bring it to my district here. Thanks

  19. Oh my goodness, I get where you’re coming from. We have been homeschooling for four years. We are not philosophically committed to doing it for the long haul. We just take it a child at a time a year at a time. So far, homeschooling has been the right decision for each of our children each year. But, I tromp through the muddy decision each year about if it’s still the right decision for each of our children and for our family as a whole. Thank you for giving words to this tension. I think a lot of us can relate!

  20. Thank you for this post! My oldest starts Kindergarten in the fall and I am agonizing over the decision. I would love to homeschool, but don’t know that it will be the right fit because he seems to thrive when he has a non-parent instructor present, and because I will be back to work at least p/t by then. We absolutely CANNOT afford private school, but I would love to send him to a Montessori or Reggio program. I have serious issues with the public school model locally, but am fairly “stuck” in terms of my option.

    And honestly, your statement “I think part of my struggle lies in the fact that I really don’t want my children to be away from home for eight hours everyday” is exactly my biggest problem with sending him to school. I do wish that more schools offered 1/2 day kindergarten, but again, it is the parental “convenience” issue, not developmental readiness, that has created this model.

  21. Oh Katie,
    Your post is so appreciated at the this time in our lives. My olderst daughter went to public Kindergarten, the one year of homeschooling and this year she goe sto an amazingly awesome small CHristian school that we absolutely adore. But the private school is expensive and now our second daughter will be able to go to kindergarten and we are in the expensive process of international adoption. So that brings up this upcoming year. I originally wanted to homeschool them again and save the money for the adoption. I’ve been a stay at home mom for almost 8 years and even though homeschooling was hard it had so many awesome perks. My younger daughter is a bit of a rebel compared to her older sister and since she doesn’t really know what “real” schooling is like I feel like homeschooling her may actually break me! So I think that leaves us up in the air again, and hopefully I’ll be able to find a job that can pay for the schooling and maybe some extra for the adoption, but I still can’t help but thinking if I’m going to work full time, I’d rather be with them… but is that the best choice for them or just what I want? I’m completely at a loss on this one, and I’m just thankful for your post and knowing that others are out there working on the same things.

    • Oh, so many variables! We just completed an international adoption this past year. It was pretty much a miracle that it happened at all, financially speaking, especially while we paid tuition at our older daughter’s school. I pray you will find a solution that is best for all of you! :)

      • Dear Katie,
        I just want to say thanks for your quick prayer. GOd surprised us and I got offered a job at my daughters school so now they can go to school and we et a break in tuition so we are set until our son comes home. Thank you again and I pray that your year adjusting to a new family dynamic is bringing joy and strength not just adjustment and difficulty. Praise God for all you do in helping “us” women virtually.
        Kelly

  22. Katie, I read this post saying “uh-huh, yep, that’s right” at every line. I so agree with all of it. We’re in the very same boat. I especially agree that eight hours in school is too much time away from the family. Add to that the two or three additional hours of homework per night that I hear is coming in the later grades (my oldest daughter is only in kindergarten) and I am realizing we also need to reevaluate every year. I have a similar mentor – she homeschooled her now-adult children through eighth grade – who encouraged us to do just that. Make your decisions year by year, according to what’s best for each child and the family as a whole. I never thought I’d be so stressed out about school – when I’m not the one taking the classes! – but as a mom it is a great responsibility and, yes, privilege to consider our choices. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. You are not alone – and I’m so glad I’m not, either!

  23. I think no matter how you choose to educate your children, if you want them to be well-educated it’s a constant, on-going effort. I do not have to struggle with if/where questions about my children’s school-based education. It’s beyond my control to choose where they go to school (at this point). I spend my time trying to positively impact what happens for them in the school they are in. I have been frustrated that this seems to require constant vigilance, but I’m coming to realize that’s just part of my job as their parent. The idea that I could find the perfect schooling situation for them and have to do no more than send them off well-rested and well-fed is just a fantasy. A lovely one! But one I’m letting go of.

  24. I was wondering if you have any good charter options in your area? That’s the route I think we’ll be taking this fall. it seems to be the best of both worlds with a flexible schedule and money provided for handpicked curriculum.

  25. Though our kids go to public school, we view ourselves as the ones responsible for their education. Teachers get to partner with us, for which we are grateful. I think it is so wise to re-evaluate the plan for each child every year.

    Also, it is wonderful to be able to get into their classrooms as a volunteer. Since our current school is more open to parent involvement, I hope I can make that happen this year. Having a little one at home again makes this a bit of a challenge though!

    • yes, Julia! That is key, I totally agree – we are the ones responsible, and the teachers partner with us. Our older daughter’s current school believes this wholeheartedly and I am thankful for that.

  26. trust God. we pray each time our son transitioned from home to elementaty and now on to middle school. consistency and simple were our mainstays. my husband went to public school and on to ivy league undergrad and medical school. he reminded me that school is complicated enough and if we just have him go to our local public school (which we like) we would do fine. my son likes having a hometown school with all the kids he has known since kindergarten. kids like routine. trust God.

  27. My son is now in the 6th grade and we are going through independent school applications and exams. We have been very happy at a beautiful private school for K-6th grade. Although there has been no need to evaluate the situation every year, the tuition has been very tough for us. When we were applying for kindergarten, we are in a “best case” scenario financially. Now, 7 years later, looking back at the huge amounts of money we have spent, we wonder if it was the right decision? Our son has had an amazing school experience but was it worth all of the money we spent? I don’t know… When evaluating schools for kindergarten, I definitely suggest you look at the tuition with worst case scenarios such as “can we pay the tuition if one of us gets laid off..”

  28. My 3yo is in preschool right now and even that was a process for us, what with evaluating the right environment, location, schedule and price. I can’t imagine the madness once he’s in kindergarten. I looked up the public school that we’re zoned for and thankfully they have a good score, although I would still want him in a language-immersion school that scored 10/10. And you’ve got me thinking about charter schools too.

    I think once he’s in school, barring anything major, we will most likely keep him in there until it’s time to leave. I don’t want to make yearly changes in his life and would much prefer consistency.

  29. I hear you! We homeschool through a public charter school…and every year we agonize…it’s not easy :)

  30. I think it is important to evaluate where you are at every year with every child with the intent to change if it is necessary, but have a long term plan. We have our kids in the local public school and while it is true, they can learn academically what they need in 3 to 4 hours, I feel strongly there is a lot of social skills gained from the diversity their public school brings them. We’ve had conversations about “what is the assisted lunch program”and “why do some parents get divorced” as well as “my friend’s mom packs the best Korean lunch mom…can you make me that sometime?”
    So sometimes having them away from me sparks so many after school conversations that would not have taken place in our home. Yes, at home, I imagine I could develop an amazing curriculum for them that would be in some ways better than the public school. But for now, I like that they are learning great social skills, solid academics, and how to be part of our local community with all of its nuances.

  31. I love the idea of evaluating for each child individually. My 2 older children (K and 2nd grade)attend a school that I love, but I think it may not be the best fit for my older daughter, who has some social and learning issues. I actually agonize over having the kids in separate schools though. (the school they are in now is a wonderful fit for my kindergartener.) I will be going to work so my youngest will start full-time preschool next year. It would require 3 separate drop offs, 3 separate pickups, 3 separate school schedules for my 3 children. I feel selfish for bringing anything other than “the best school/educational fit” into the picture, but practicality requires me to draw the line somewhere.

  32. I’ve never heard of a public school having 8 hour days. 8-4? 9-5? That’s unheard of.

    • You also have to consider travel time. Riding the bus often takes anywhere from 15 min – 1 hour depending on your placement along the route.
      In my school district average school start/dismissal times are:
      Elementary – 8am – 3pm
      Intermediate – 845am – 345pm
      Junior High – 830am – 4pm
      High School – 730am – 3pm
      That’s 7-7.5 hours of actual school time without considering after school activities or transportation. For many, that’s a long time to be away from the family unit.

    • Angie, most schools around here are 7 or 7.5 hours, but when you add in transportation time, the kids are away from home for at least 8 hours each day.

  33. I love all the options available to educate our children, particularly because each child is so different. I agree that education is a family’s personal choice. We have chosen (currently) to send our children to a private Christian school. It is a huge financial sacrifice and we probably won’t own a home for an extra couple of years because of it. But that is how important it is to us to give them, what we believe is, the best possible education we can reasonably afford. We are not opposed to the other options down the road and would be homeschooling should we travel an extended period of time but for now (and for several years, I presume), that is where our kids will be.

  34. Some of this agony is the reason why we homeschool!
    Believe me, teaching was one of my last jobs that I wanted to do, as a teenager I even said to myself I will never be a teacher, looking on at how badly some of the teachers were treated by the classmates. Fast forward 20 or so years and now homeschooling is the only option for us, well maybe not everybody agrees with me on this amongst our friends, as there are plenty of schools around here, but I wanted a particular type of education for my children that did not require my kids being away from me half of the day and now in the grades for full days and sitting at a desk. So I decided to homeschool, as you can see it was not my calling either, but it seemed the only viable option for me to ensure my children stay with me and experience the freedom of childhood and learning that no school system can provide. I would not want it any other way now. Naturally homeschooling brings all kinds of other difficulties in the higher grades, do I understand the material well enough to teach it… etc., but that is a whole other chapter by itself, and at least it is one that I can control myself.
    Maybe once my kids are at an highschool age I re-evaluate, ….unless of course they want to go to school. Which so far has not been the case, phew.

  35. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s like you jumped into my life and read my mind! We currently have our K daughter at a private Montessori school (which we LOVE) and just finished applying for financial aid. Last year they only gave us enough for one child, so our 4 year old stayed home (because it’s only preschool!) I thought if I LOVE homeschooling, it’s what we’ll do for all of them. But the more I thought about leaving the school, the sadder I got, and while I love homeschooling- my 4 year old keeps asking when she can go to the amazing school her sister goes to. We live in a city with a lottery system for all schools- so although we live across from a public school, it’s not a good choice and so we would be taking them across town even for the public option. So many choices!!! Sometimes I think we worry about it too much. But I think the environment and curriculum that my children get in school is so important I have a hard time settling into “it’s good enough” It’s such a hard choice, but you are right that we have the privileged to make these choices, and in the end it’s kinda what parenting is all about!

  36. I am currently debating this question. My son is in a private preschool that we love, my 3 year old will be starting next year. We get a little financial help when they’re 3 and 4 but not once they’re 5. So I’d love to send him for another year, but it might not be possible. I’m not sure about public school, I’m from the UK and in the next few years we will have to return. Homeschooling is a possibility, but it does seem daunting. Particularly as I don’t have any family here. And I’m worrying about the kids not developing social skills… or me losing my mind. We live in a rural area, his state school is 8 miles away, his current private one 10.

  37. Oh, boy, do I understand! We moved to ensure access to a good charter school in our education-challenged community. Only problem is that my son has some learning differences that don’t quite jive with the school and there aren’t a lot of alternatives out there. What alternatives are there either cost money (we have none) or are similar in focus to where we are. I SO WISH I could homeschool, but I am the breadwinner and DH would not do well in that role (besides the fact that we really need the two incomes to survive as we have seen with job losses).

  38. One option that some public school districts provide, but few may be aware of, is part time enrollment. Before we pulled our sons (K and first grade) out of school this year, we were considering having them attend in the mornings during the primary academic part of the day, through to lunch. We loved the school, but the days were too long for them and I hated that Monday-Friday was primarily a business relationship. True, they were not actually in school for eight hours, but all the time between those hours and sleeping were spent transitioning to and from school, and then gearing up to do it all again the next day.

    Part time would have been ideal for us if it were not for the an issue with transportation.

  39. This really resonates with me as well. We don’t have as many options, but still could go private, public, or homeschool. My daughter is starting Kindergarten next year and I am a licensed teacher (K-8 and PK-12 School Library Media). We’ve done quite a bit of learning at home over the last couple of years, but she loves her 2 morning a week preschool and really wants to go to school. I love the idea of half days for Kindergarten, but only the private school offers that. My concern with switching/reevaluating each year is that I wonder if that will cause her problems making and keeping friends over the years. In our area, it seems like kids become friends early and many friendships are maintained. So if we do private this year and public in first…lots to think about!

  40. My SIL and I were having this same conversation last night! It really is the season of educaitonal choice. I am so thankful for choices, but I also struggle with the thought that maybe if we didn’t have so many options, we could all instead put our energies in investing and improving the schools in our neighborhoods. This is my struggle – to grab one of the choices available or to commit and invest energy in the school where we’ve been planted.
    I love the comment above to TRUST. That’s a big part. To recognize that my kids are going to succeed and thrive wherever they go to school… primarily because they have parents who are INVESTED IN THEIR EDUCATION. For many kids (developmental challenges, learning differences, etc) the school choice really does make a difference in whether they will be supported and successful. For our family, maybe for our family we just need to trust and invest in what we’ve been provided.
    Regardless, I’m looking forward to having this decision behind me!

  41. avatar
    Natalie Bentley says:

    We homeschool all 3 our children. Our kids are 8, 5,4. It is the best decision we have ever made but also the most difficult job on the planet. I encourage you to watch the movie Indoctrination. Very interesting and thought provoking on the educational system in America. Good luck to you!

  42. I am so glad that I have always lived in countries where there is access to free education. I have never had to worry about this. It seems very scary that you have to make all those decisions and spend all that money on something that is so important!

    • I live in Texas in the US, and we have access to free education here, but the quality of that education varies WILDLY, depending on where you live. Basically, people with more money live in better neighborhoods and that’s where the better schools are. There are definitely exceptions – I’m not making a rule here, so please don’t anyone jump down my throat! But that’s generally how it goes around here.

  43. Add my name to the list of people whose minds you’re reading. My oldest son (age 4.5) has been in the local French school since last spring (we’re posted overseas in the Middle East, and will be moving to Southeast Asia next year) and my husband and I have been agonizing over what to do next year. Keep him in the all-French program he’s in now? Put him in the bilingual (French/English) program? Homeschool? American school? I love that he’s learning to speak French, but I don’t speak it and that limits my ability to talk to one of his teachers (the other speaks English), and makes it hard for me to feel comfortable reaching out to other parents. I have been agonizing over the question of whether we should be homeschooling since last year, I totally agree with your feeling that I don’t WANT my son away from the family for hours every day, but I neither my husband nor I really feel called to homeschool either. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this article, it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone in my dilemma!

  44. My oldest has had many school changes (some due to a move) and we’ve found a charter school that worked so well for him 2 years ago and also benefits my younger son as well. Sometimes I get tired of the drive but it is worth it to get the quality education they are receiving. We have plans for them to enter the neighborhood middle school and high school. I will admit I am nervous about middle school as it was very difficult years for me but I know I can also make changes if needed- homeschooling, online charter school, or private. My daughter will enter Kindergarten when her brothers are both at middle school and I’ll have to decide between the charter school or the really good neighborhood school for her.

  45. I thought you might like to check out a new approach to education where the approach is one student and one teacher class sizes with flexible scheduling.

    Halstrom Academy, a private school in California offers online and on-campus classes for middle and high school students. They also accommodate homeschool students to supplement the classes they take at home.

  46. I am SO enjoying reading all the reponses to this post as I too am stressing about next year’s plan. We live in Atlanta where there are lots of options…..public, private, charter, christian homeschool programs which include from 1 day or 2-5 half days or 2-3 full days – no joke!! I feel like there are so many options that I am just WAAAAY confused! I have visited about 5 schools already. I pray every day for guidance! My oldest son attends preschool right now and he is doing wonderfully but my second son I am not sure he will go to preschool. He is a different child. I struggle with wanting to try and home school but doubting it’s for me. But if I don’t try it with a full commitment (not just here and there randomly with my son), how will I know?! Stress Stress and more stress!
    I was also share with you regarding the governess….
    my sister-in-law teaches kindergarten at a 2-day christian school. Then on the other days when she isn’t teaching, she homeschools 3 kids for a family who attends her school. Pretty sweet, right?! !
    Thank you for posting this since it helps me to know that I don’t have to commitment for a lifetime. I need to just take it one year at a time and one child at a time.

  47. Being a parent myself, I feel the same urge to always seek the best option for my kids when it comes to schooling. I am always on the lookout for new offers both in public and private schools including scholarships since my eldest is entering college two years from now. Thanks for this wonderful post.

    Jamie

  48. Hi Katie — great post. I just wanted to say that I think we must lead parallel lives. We have a very similar situation… commuting quite a ways to a private school that we love, agonizing over the wait to see if we’ll get enough financial aid. We, too, know that homeschooling is not for us, at least not at this stage of our lives. Thanks for sharing about these struggles! It encourages me to hear about other families working through these things.

  49. My oldest is going to K next year and I struggled for many months with what to do for her schooling. We don’t feel that our local public school is the quality that we desire and the public school we do like is 25 minutes away. (We’re lucky to have school choice.) Homeschooling seemed overwhelming to me and I didn’t trust myself to know WHAT to teach or what method to use, and was intimidated by the cost. Then an acquaintance mentioned that they use a free Virtual Public School Academy to homeschool. As soon as I looked it up online I knew it was the answer we were looking for! We’re just committing to one year and then plan to re-evaluate. I feel very good about it and excited to start!!!

  50. This is such a tough decision, especially faced with as many options as we are these days. When my husband and I grew up, there was one choice for where to go to school. Where we now live, you are assigned a “residential school” within a zone (a fraction of the entire school district). The residential school is the one you are assigned to based on the location of your home, but you can apply to transfer within the zone. And then there are magnet schools, and I think you can apply for zone-to-zone transfer. And then there are charter schools. And those are just the public options.
    We have actually enrolled our children at two different schools this year – one a charter, one a magnet. We made the decision based on their learning styles and – this may be a shocker for some – their level of happiness and enjoyment. They had originally been at the magnet school where my son is still enrolled. Our daughter was progressing adequately, but we felt there was – for her – something missing. She’s now at a school that teaches through the arts, and she is thriving!
    Our schools have slightly different calendars, neither has bus service, and both require volunteer hours of parents. Small price to pay for happy and eager learners, and I’m glad to spend those hours in my kids’ schools and get to know the teachers and administrators!

  51. Loved this post. We have three daughters – ages 6, 3, and 9 months. We’re currently homeschooling our oldest for 1st grade. Sometimes people ask us about our “plans” and I always answer the same way that your friend did. We’ll evaluate every year for every child.
    P.S. I really like the governess idea. I think you’re on to something. ;)

  52. In our state you can actually employ a private tutor or governess, though I imagine it would cost much more than the cost of private school, depending on the number of kids and the tuition of the school. For me it mostly comes down to how many “wasted” hours there are in a traditional school day. So many hours away from home and then hours more of homework. That being said, I have a deep desire to homeschool but I am rather terrified, mostly of trying to meet the state obligations. I know that I can educate my children, but I can I do it according to the government timetable. I have read some compelling evidence for delayed formal academic instruction, but I’m not sure my state will let me do it.

  53. Great words of advice Katie! First off I hope that charter school down the road you are visiting is the one my kids go to!!! :) Second, this is our exact advice and has helped us out so much. When C started kindergarten I was terrified about making the wrong school choice. It was then that someone gave us the exact advice and we clung to it. We re-evaluate each year for each kid! Thanks for sharing!
    :)jamie

  54. We drive our son to the neighboring town to attend public middle school, rather than sending him to the middle school that is — literally — around the corner. Our district has horrible education, drug and gang problems, whereas the other school district is wonderful. So it’s really a no-brainer for us. But we have to reapply every year for admission, too, and I find myself biting my nails until the answer comes. Thank you for the advice to remember that we can, and should, re-think our educational decisions as our kids grow, and that if he doesn’t get re-admitted this year, we can always homeschool. (My nails thank you, too.)

  55. I live in a different country, so my comments are not at all relevant to the American school system or the ideological underpinning of society. I did spend two years living in the US when my husband was a graduate student though, so I am familiar with the different cultural practices. I’m also public school teacher, and expecting my first child in a few weeks, so I’m not coming at the question of education from the perspective of a parent, but rather the perspective of a teacher. Public schooling was not introduced in order to provide free daycare for working parents – rather it’s purpose is to teach children skills and attitudes valued by the society. For most of us in western countries, part of those skills are academic, but they are not the sole, or even the most important part of a public education. Other choices in education also reflect the values of the society in which they are founded. I live in a country that is more communal rather than individual focused, and our school system reflects those values. Unlike the US, we do not have a whole bunch of choices in education, because of society values a more socialistic approach. I’m not applauding one system over the other, just saying that different societies approach education in a very different manner. While parents always need to be ultimately responsible for their child’s education, the need for yearly re-evaluation or the necessity of guiding the type of education is very much determined by the social values of the family. Honestly, it’s part of the reason I pray that my husband’s job never brings us back to the United States – our culture’s more socialistic values are completely at odds with the American emphasis on individual choice. However, I am aware of the fact that many Americans would be horrified at our system. To sum up, I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe you can look at your need to re-evaluate as a an opportunity to demonstrate to your children the importance of individual choice in the society where they live.

  56. avatar
    Christine says:

    It is so good to know that this school stuff makes someone else crazy. When I grew up, we went to the local kindergarten, in a good district and I went K-12 in the same place. My mom was a SAHM. It was easy.

    Now we live in a city with magnet schools and charter schools and some really poor public school options otherwise. It also costs approx $1 Million to own a home in a “good” district. My kids are currently at a montessori school because my husband and I work full-time and they haven’t been school aged, but with the birth of our third and a child old enough to start kindergarten in the fall, I have been suddenly thrust into this weird world of school choice: public, private, charter, magnet, local, other district etc.
    I swear I spent less time figuring out where to go for college than i have on where to send my son to Kindergarten.

  57. I totally feel this way! So many choices which is a good thing but I just go round and round….even our designated school is wait listed. Even if we choose to homeschool there are still so many options! Thanks for sharing!

  58. Thanks for a great post! We private school as well, and love our school — but we still talk about homeschooling every year. So far, we’ve always decided to do “one more year” of private school, but I agree it is a good idea to explore your options and stay flexible as your children’s and family’s needs change.
    I hope you get the answers you need soon!
    Samantha

  59. It seems there are always these choices, right? We all want the best for our children, but sometimes the best is just so much effort. We too have the choice of sending our child to a school right around the corner. She could probably walk there. If she wasn’t only 4 years old and all. According to reviews, this school is one of the best in South Africa, but I don’t agree with their mission statement. That is, their mission statement makes it clear that there will not be space for my very creative, sensitive, non-competitive and spiritual little dancer in their boxed in business ethics.
    So we found another one. Which is a little bit further, and on days when I go in to work, not such a big problem, but it is more of a problem on the days that I give an early morning yoga class, or when I am sick or have leave. My husband’s offices are the complete opposite direction so it takes a lot of effort and planning and effort. Did I mention effort?
    :) BUT and this is a big BUT: her school is small, and will continue up until grade 7 which means she will receive personalised attention and be secure in her environment up until she goes to primary school; that someone takes into account her severe sensitivity to excessive noise, the fact that she is a vegetarian and that her mother is anal about what she learns or is exposed to. The school works for us, the distance not so much.
    I would home school in a heartbeat though, but I am worried that she loves the socialising too much and that my level of comfort with her is 100%, which basically means that if I am in a bad mood, I don’t need to try and hide it form her, and no parent forces me to be nice to her despite my disposition.
    So yes, I get what you are saying: Grateful and then also just wishing the world were a little simpler, a little easier and that what we have to be grateful for, wasn’t so hard to come by.

  60. I love the governess idea! As a former teacher, I agree that that arrangement seems to have all of the benefits of homeschooling and none of the detractors of public school.

  61. Thanks for sharing your experience! We’ve found ourselves in this spot, and only at the preschool (!) level. My husband is in public education, but neither of us are completely sold on the advantages over some other, more “ideal” form – though I’m not sure I have the capacity for homeschooling. I’ve dreamed of hiring out that role to a fantastic teacher-sort, so thanks for making me aware that this exists in the “governess” – I had no idea!

  62. Governess? Yes, please!! I just searched my area’s Craigslist postings for “governess”…no dice. Dang!

    My girl will start kindergarten this fall, and I plan to tour some charter schools. I just feel like most public schools destroy the innate love of learning that kids have. Charter schools seem mildly better.

    But yes, LOVING the governess idea and wishing I could find one! (and afford one)

    My situation is further complicated by the fact that I’m divorced (with a new partner) and share custody with her dad (remarried), so 4 parents actually have to agree on where my daughter will go to school. Holy guacamole!

  63. Ooooooh, Katie. I get this. OH, do I get this.

    We’ve been homeschooling for 16 years with one finishing up his BA English, the 2nd about to graduate and go to his first-choice college, and 6 (yes, SIX) more behind them. We’ve been academically successful. We like the fruit.

    But… This year somehow I’m unsettled, and that’s part of the agony when our local school district is so lousy it’s about to lose its funding and the private schools don’t offer a stellar cost/academic standards ratio. I’m spending a lot of time asking God for His direction and equal time plugging along in case we’re all back at home again in the fall. For year 17.

    Governess. Sounds dreamy.

  64. I’ve heard a lot of older moms say just what your mentor said: Don’t feel like you have to choose once and never choose again. Try what seems best, and reevaluate if it doesn’t work out. DH and I moved into our neighborhood in an up-and-coming part of town 10 years ago, well before our daughter was born. We moved here knowing that the neighborhood schools are lousy, but that the district has some amazing “optional schools” that fill their seats from a county-wide lottery. People told us over and over that we were crazy to gamble with our future child(ren)’s education like that, but we were confident God had placed in this neighborhood, and we had complete peace that he had a plan. Sure enough, when the time came, we had a very clear leading NOT to homeschool but to put DD through the school lottery. She was wait-listed for our first-choice school, and we had to give up a guaranteed spot at another school to keep her waitlist position. But, again, that’s what we felt led to do–and she got in on the first waitlist pull. She’s now in her second year there, and it’s a perfect fit for our family. I know God’s already got just the right education planned for your kids, and I’m sure he’ll show you clearly what that is if you keep seeking him about it.

  65. Moms of kids of all ages, whether in school or homeschooled, this is such a great resource. http://www.acadamicacs.com .
    Academics through song.
    educational songs, teaching songs, Songs for the classroom, Acadamiacs makes learning fun, singing to learn, learning through song,

  66. Yes, as a teacher, I’ve seen children who are blessed by either homeschooling, public or private education. Every child is different and sometimes it’s necessary to change our approaches based on their needs instead of fulfilling our idealistic fantasies. Some kids need home schooling and others need to go to school. Since education must always be child centered, his/her needs MUST be met in order for him/her to achieve their potential.

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